As the fall season continues to unfold — and with it the films deemed Oscar-worthy — Robert Redford again returns to the big screen in “All Is Lost,” a movie that is stirring Academy Award buzz both for him, as the film’s sole actor, and it’s director J.C. Chandor, whose first feature was “Margin Call.”
Recently, Redford, 77, called to chat about “All Is Lost,” why he jumped at the chance to make it and how he thinks about his long career as a Hollywood “A-Lister.”
Q: In “All Is Lost,” your character is sailing across the Indian Ocean, all alone. Have you had much experience sailing?
A: I didn’t. I’m not an avid sailor at all. I’m a water person, having grown up in Southern California, and have spent a big part of my life in the water — surfing and waterskiing. I have a ski boat, but have never really done any sailing. It was new experience for me. It was the expertise of the director J.C. Chandor which really helped me, because he’s a very avid, skilled sailor. I gave myself over to it.
One of the things that drew me into it was that J.C. created a character who was a good sailor, but not a super-sailor. There were things he did not know. That left open space during the crises he faces on his damaged boat, where he had to improvise.
He had to figure things out in the moment, which I really loved about it.
Q: In “All is Lost,” we don’t even know your character’s name. He’s “Our Man.” We know so little about him — like where is he from? Why is this seemingly weekend sailor kind of guy sailing across the Indian Ocean alone? Why did he do it?
A: That’s another thing that attracted me to the piece in the first place. So much is left open to allow for audience interpretation and participation. On a personal basis, I like films that ask a question at the end. I like it when people walk out of the theater aksing, ‘What would you do? What do you think?’ That’s so much better than tying it all up neatly with a ribbon.
Q: Clearly, you already have created an amazing legacy as an actor, director, producer, creator of Sundance. How do you look back on it all — and how does “All Is Lost” fit into that?
A: Well that’s an interesting question. I don’t look back. I haven’t even seen all the films I’ve made. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my career. I’m always in the moment and moving forward and not thinking about what’s behind me — until somebody like you brings it up! So when something like this comes along, I see it as another chance to move forward. With so little dialogue here — for example — it was almost like a chance to make a silent film — something I had never done. See? Something new.
Q: Obviously, this film is about survival and what it takes to survive seemingly overwhelming odds. Do you agree?
A: You find out things about yourself things you didn’t even realize you had in you — strengths you didn’t realize you had. It made me make parallels in my mind to other films I’ve done where survival was important. “Jeremiah Johnson” —along with this movie — were the toughest films I’ve done — physically speaking. But, I just thought of another film — with a Chicago connection, that deals with survival: “Ordinary People” [which brought Redford the best director Oscar].
That film was about two brothers and involves a death in Lake Michigan. One survives and one doesn’t. Why did one live and the other one didn’t? Survival as a dramatic element can be extremely compelling. At the end, it’s that desire to live. In some people it’s simply stronger than it is in others.